Family law

A separated parent’s survival guide to Christmas

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Walker Family Law
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A separated parent’s survival guide to Christmas

Lauren Preedy - Senior Associate Solicitor - Head of Divorce Team
Lauren Preedy – Senior Associate Solicitor – Head of Divorce Team

Christmas can be a notably fraught time for separated families with young children. Both parents want to spend as much time as possible with the children, and everyone is determined to have a good time.

But it is often not possible for everyone to get what they want.

Here are a few tips to help separated parents survive the holiday period.

Contact arrangements

The biggest issue, of course, is what time will the children spend with each parent over the holiday period, in particular where will they spend Christmas Day?

Obviously, this issue should if possible be agreed between the parents (in fact, it is probably too late now to ask a court to decide arrangements, unless there is a real emergency).

So what should the arrangements be? Well, there are absolutely no rules – every family is different, and what might work for one family may not work for another. Distance between households, for example, can obviously be a factor, as can the accommodation available in each parent’s household.

Examples of common arrangements are that the children spend Christmas Day with one parent and Boxing Day with the other, perhaps alternating this arrangement between the parents every other year, that the children spend half of the Christmas/New Year holiday with each parent, and that Christmas Day itself is divided between the parents.separated parent’s at Christmas

There is also another option: the parents spending Christmas Day together, assuming neither has a new partner living with them. The children are likely to approve of such an arrangement, but obviously it can only work if the parents are on good terms with one another.

Going abroad

Whilst it may not be an option this year because of the Covid-19 restrictions (more of which in a moment), some parents like to take their children abroad over the Christmas/New Year holiday, for example on a skiing trip.

If you do want to take your child abroad then you will need the written consent of the other parent (and anyone else with parental responsibility), or the permission of the court.

The exception to this requirement is if you have a child arrangements order stating that the child should live with you, in which case you may take the child abroad for less than one month without seeking specific consent.

PresentsGirl looking out of window separated

Every parent looks forward to giving their children presents at Christmas, but being separated from the other parent can lead to particular problems.

The obvious one is that, unless the parents spend Christmas Day together, or split the day between them, then one parent is not going to be able to give their presents (and perhaps presents from the rest of their family) on the ‘special day’. But this need not be a problem. Presents do not have to be given ‘on the day’. If you don’t see your children on Christmas Day then give them their presents on the next day you see them – children are quite happy to have a second day when they receive presents!

There are a couple of other things to say about Christmas presents.

Firstly, try not to duplicate, by buying the same present as the other parent, leading to disappointment for the child. Liaise with the other parent to ensure that this does not happen. And if you are the first parent to give presents, do not be tempted to duplicate, so that the children are disappointed when they receive presents from the other parent.

Lastly, don’t try to outdo the other parent, by buying bigger or better presents. The purpose of Christmas is not to gain favour with your children. And if there are any particularly expensive presents that one parent can’t afford, how about buying them jointly with the other parent?

Covid restrictionsCovid restrictions at christmas

Moving children between households pursuant to contact arrangements has always been allowed under the various lockdown restrictions. However, that does not mean that there are no restrictions regarding contact with the wider family, and friends. You should check what the restrictions are in your area, and also listen for any further government announcements.

This is not to say, of course, that following any government restrictions will keep your family 100% safe – if you are concerned, you may want to agree further specific precautions with the other parent.

We can help

Ian Walker team

If you want can’t agree Christmas arrangements for your children with the other parent, or if you simply want some advice about Christmas arrangements, we can help. To find out more, and to get started with one of our specialist lawyers, click here.